Bujumbura (Fides Service) – “The ceremony for the handing over of power between presidents, outgoing Tutsi Pierre Buyoya and incoming Hutu Domitien Ndayizeye, took place on May 1 in relative calm” local sources in the Burundian capital Bujumbura, tell Fides Service. “Although in some parts of the city rebels and army troops continue to fight, everyone hopes for concrete and fruitful commitment on the part of the new national leaders who should work together to restore peace in the country.”
The handing over of power is an important milestone in the history of Burundi. In fact the country has been torn apart by civil war since 1993 with fighting between the regular army formed mostly of Tutsi and rebels mostly Hutu. The war has killed at least 300,000 people. In 2000 a peace agreement was signed in Arusha, Tanzania, to from a government of transition with 18 months of Tutsi presidency alternating with 18 months of Hutu presidency. This complex plan was to overcome rivalry between the two ethnic groups in conflict for years. The task of the transition government is to create conditions for free and fair elections in 2004.
Domitien Ndayizeye is the fourth Hutu president in 40 years of history of independent Burundi. If we consider that 85% of the population of 6.5 million is Hutu, it is evident that the main group in the country has not always been represented at the maximum institutional level.
The Arusha agreement was not signed by certain rebel groups which continue to fight. Only the FDD Front for the Defence of Democracy signed recently a cease fire which was not respected. FDD says it is fighting to defend itself from army attacks, while government forces accuse the guerrillas of not respecting the cease fire agreement. In any case the situation is tense with military operations affecting most of the country’s 17 provinces.
To support the peace process the African Union promised a peace-keeping force of 3,500 men. In November 2001 some 700 arrived to supply protection to political leaders returned from exile. At the end of April some 150 South African soldiers arrived in Burundi mainly to monitor the cease fire between the army and the rebels. It is hope that when the entire African Union peace keeping force is deployed it will be able to make the sides respect the cease fire agreement. LM (Fides Service 2/5/2003 EM lines 36 Words: 472)